After releasing the proposed budget for next year, it was clear Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez is looking for a quick fix for the county's libraries.
In a press conference Tuesday, Gimenez proposed to raise the library tax rate, but only enough to allocate $45 million to the financially troubled system. He also suggested a reduction of 94 full-time positions, which would be replaced with part-time staff.
"This option allows us to keep all our libraries open with the same number of hours, but with staffing adjustments," Gimenez said.
Library advocates are steamed. They aim demand $64 million. "Libraries are not just buildings with caretakers," said Terry Murphy, a board member of Friends of the Miami-Dade Public Library. "Gimenez thinks he can just bring in someone to open and close doors, but professional staff is crucial to a library."
This comes after Gimenez openly questioned whether the county was overpaying its professional library staff earlier this year. The average salary for a librarian last year was $63,000, which meets with the national average. Gimenez also said Tuesday that he would not support any property tax increases, leaving library advocates questioning his commitment to supporting community interests.
"The idea that we would lose 100 professional staff and take a budget cut is just entirely contrary to the public opinion," Murphy said. "This is not what the community wants."
Commissioners have until next Tuesday, July 15 to decide whether to increase the tax rate for libraries. If the rate is raised to generate $64 million, libraries could restore material budgets and maintain professional services. That means new books and publications.
In the past two years, libraries have seen back-to-back crises with library tax cuts. Last year alone, more than 20 libraries were expected to close because of a lack of tax revenue. Then cash reserves came in to save the libraries for one more year.
With a $50 million budget and only $30 million in tax revenue, the county with two options for the next fiscal year: close library doors and fire librarians or raise the tax rate.
"Historically, libraries have not had alternative funding," Murphy said. "So whatever tax you levy is what you use. That's why it is important that commissioners set the millage rate higher."
While the next fiscal year does not begin until October 1, commissioners now have the final say on how libraries will fare next year. Although the budget will not be finalized until September, the fate of libraries will be determined by the millage rate, another term for special tax rate, that commissioners decide on next week.